I do like a sharp-eyed reader.  Sheila got in contact to show me this poster, which she’d just bought on eBay.

Electric hot water is cheap poster 1950s

It’s great, isn’t it.  But I can’t tell you anything definite about it, because it isn’t signed.  Sheila, however, has a theory.

Compare and contrast with this, which is a Tom Eckersley classic.

Poster - 'Mablethorpe - Trusthorpe and Sutton On Sea' by Tom Eckersley (1959) double royal 25in x 40in. Depicts a smiling cartoon girl half buried in the sand. Published by British Railways Eastern Region

These children are, if not twins, then certainly close relatives.

cheap electricity head shot

mablethorpe head shot

So is this a hitherto unknown Eckersley?  Well it might be.  The construction of the faces are almost identical, and so little is known about British commercial posters of this period that I wouldn’t be at all surprised at all if an entirely new poster turned up.

Equally, though – and this is Mr Crownfolio’s theory – it’s possible that another graphic designer saw Eckersley’s poster and rather liked the way that the face had been done.  So when he or she got the right commission which involved drawing a child, they took some inspiration from the Mabletherpe little girl.

One possible way to sort this might involve going through a complete set of graphic design and poster annuals for the late 1950s and seeing whether the electric hot water poster is mentioned at all.  Sadly I can’t volunteer, as we don’t have a full set.  But if anyone else wants to have a go, or has any other theories or knowledge about this poster, do let us all know in the comments below.

Push once

I’m finding it hard to get worked up about auctions at the moment.  This might be because I’m getting jaded, but I think it’s more that there isn’t that much of interest coming through at the moment (and if anyone has any theories as to why this might be, please do let me know in the comments box below).  Having said that, there are two auctions tomorrow (sorry!) that might be worth our attention.

The first is from Transport Auctions of London (not to be confused with London Transport Auctions who are entirely different and have an auction coming up next month).  This contains a lot of things that are not posters, so if you are after cap badges or a rather splendidly named category called ‘relics’ you are on your own.  Go and look, you might want something like this.

Push once bell from London tram

Or you might not.  Whatever you decide, there are also a small handful of posters.

1938 London Transport PANEL POSTER 'Smithfield Club Cattle Show, Royal Agricultural Hall' by 'T V Y
TYV, 1938, est. £50-75

The main theme of today seems to be posters that I own already.  The bull above comes under that heading as does this rather untypical Eckersley-Lombers.

 London Transport 1936 double-royal POSTER ''Christmas Calling'' by Tom Eckersley (1914-1997) & Eric Lombers (1914-1978)
Eckersley/Lombers, 1936, est £75-100

Unusually, most of the other posters I like are also pre-war, such as this appropriately seasonal offering.

Original 1931 London General Omnibus Co (Underground Group) double royal POSTER 'Come Out! Easter by bus'. Designed by 'Major
Major, 1931, est. £120-170

The design of this poster is less striking, but I am intrigued by the premise.  Why don’t we have real cows in the ticket halls of stations now?

Original 1935 London Transport double-royal poster 'Model Dairy in the Ticket Hall, Charing Cross Station'. The exhibition was arranged by the Milk Marketing Board which had been formed just two years earlier.
Anonymous, 1935, est. £60-80

Meanwhile at GW Railwayana there are also posters.  Rather greedily, we have two copies of this one, so we won’t be competing if any of you are after it, which you should be.

Poster - 'Mablethorpe - Trusthorpe and Sutton On Sea' by Tom Eckersley (1959) double royal 25in x 40in. Depicts a smiling cartoon girl half buried in the sand. Published by British Railways Eastern Region

There are also American posters, and also a lot of pastel-tinted scenic views which I am mostly going to ignore.

This seaside poster, however, is great, although I know nothing about Armengol whatsoever.  However a brief google convinces me that he is very interesting indeed, so we’ll return to him another day.

Poster British Railways 'Come To Coney Beach, Porthcawl - Britain's Brightest Pleasure Beach' by Mario Armengol 1952, double royal 25in x 50in. Depicts a happy holidaymaker riding the carousel with the beach beyond
Mario Armengol, 1952.

No estimates, sadly, because that’s how railwayana works, so your guess is as good as mine, and quite probably better.  This one usually goes quite cheap though, can’t think why.

Poster British Railways 'Stratford-on-Avon - The Heart of Shakespeare's England' by Frank Newbold circa 1950, quad royal 40in x 50in
Frank Newbould, 1950

Of the views, this is probably the boldest and most striking.

Poster GWR 'Somerset - Holiday Tickets at Reduced Fares' by D. Irwin Brown 1932, double royal 25in x 40in.
D. Irwin Brown, 1932.

Although there are a couple of Lander maps which might put up a good fight too.

Poster British Railways 'Dorset' by Lander double royal 25in x 40in. Map image of the county showing places of interest with a numbered key below. Published by the Southern Region of British Railways

Even on something as workaday as a map, he never fails to use brilliant contrast.  Kent is on offer too if you happen to live there.

Beyond that it all gets a bit patchy.  There are a set of modern (ish) posters expressing British Rail through the medium of station roofs, which I admire rather than actually like.  This one’s Newcastle.

Poster 'Newcastle' by Brendan Neiland, double royal 25in x 40in. Produced for the Inter City circa 1991
Brendan Neiland, 1991

If it’s modernity you’re after, I think this is doing a much better job.

Poster British Railways 'Service To Industry' by Kenneth Leech circa1960, double royal 25in x 40in. Depicts a busy industrial scene from the North East and shows a BR Class 28 locomotive on a freight train
Kenneth Leech, 1960

That’s a BR Class 28 locomotive on a freight train, for those of you who care about these things.  I can’t quite manage to.  I think he’s the same Leech who designed this very different poster only a few years before and which is also in the auction.

BR Poster `Pembrokeshire - Travel by Train` by Leech, quad royal size 50in x 40in. Typical beach scene around Saundersfoot/Tenby area showing families and children.

I have written about the numbers of people on a beach before, but I’ve got more to add to that one of these days.  For now we’ll just note that, travelling by train, you are unlikely ever to arrive at such an empty beach.  Unless it’s actually February.

There are also, as seems to be customary in railwayana auctions these days, a smattering of wartime propaganda posters.  This one is the most interesting, a statement which tells you everything you need to know about the rest.

Poster WWII 'You Are In The Battle For Fuel 1940', 29.5in x 19.5in. Published by the Ministry of Power.

Some of the best design on offer in fact comes in the form of carriage prints rather than posters.  This is battered but glorious, not just for its design but also the evocation of an entirely disappeared world of railway hotels.  I was going to say elegant railway hotels, but I’m not certain that the Royal at Grimsby Docks would qualify.

LNER Carriage Print 'Hotels Owned By The LNER' In an original type glazed frame 20in x 10in.

The catalogue only tells me that it’s rare, so if anyone can add any more to that, please do.

This Bromfield is a version of a poster, but none the less pleasing for that.

Carriage Print 'Golden Arrow To Paris - Daily From London Victoria Station In Pullman Comfort', by Ken Broomfield. In original Southern Railway glazed frame and measuring 27in x 11in

It’s probably easier to find space for on a wall too. Hmm, best I don’t think about that too hard…

Back in time for posters

Do you remember the ghosts of Notting Hill Gate?

wide of disused passageway Notting Hill Gate tube station

These were the posters discovered during a renovation of the tube station a few years ago. A fascinating time capsule, they provided an evocative wormhole back to the concerns and consumerism of the late 1950s, all documented by LT’s Head of Design and Heritage, Mike Ashworth.

Old posters in disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate tube station, 2010

Where we lead, the French follow.  Or so it seems.

Old posters revealed on Paris Metro at Trinité station

The Paris metro station of Trinité is being prepared for renovation.  As layers of cladding were stripped back, a whole archive of posters was revealed here too.


By a curious coincidence, the posters date from just a year later than the Notting Hill survivors, revealing the everyday life of Paris in 1959.

cladding reveals old posters at Trinite metro

A life which, in some ways, was very different to ours.  The left-hand poster is apparently a roll-call of all those convicted of offences on the network, while the right is about visits to the underground tombs of the city.

two posters from trinité station

Neither of which were found anywhere near the walls of Notting Hill Gate.

But what really strikes me about these posters is that, dare I say it, the overall standard of design is not as good as those in London.  I wasn’t expecting that at all, when design historians spend so much time apologising for British design in comparison to Continental trends, but it’s true.

Paris bus services poster from Trinite metro

Of course there are some good posters.  In fact this one looks great and I quite fancy a copy.

Calor iron advertisement Trinite metro

I’d love to be able to see more of this intriguing fragment too.

fragment of old poster trinite metro

But overall, I’m afraid to say that I think Notting Hill Gate would have been a more visually pleasing place to catch the train.

The other thing that strikes me about the comparison though, is more about the present day.  The posters in Paris are only here for you to see today because they were snapped by a passing commuter, although fortunately one who is a professional photographer.


He’s called Yann Covès, and all of the photographs on here are his.

Whereas in London, the notion of heritage is so much more entrenched that LT have a man to manage it.  Which I also think is probably better, but then I’m British so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Odds and ends, including string

This has appeared on eBay.

Modern House In England cover Eckersley Lombers

It’s fearfully expensive, with a starting price of £125, but I thought it was worth drawing to your attention, because it’s an Eckersley-Lombers design that I can’t recall having seen before.  And it is wonderfully modern.

I haven’t been scrutinising eBay as much as I used to, mainly because the bargains are pretty thin on the ground these days, and there are only so many times I can post about over-priced posters and unauthorised reproductions without losing my faith in human nature.   But – for an edifying lesson in a dealer’s mark-up, it’s worth looking at these.

Service with a Smile GPO poster, who seem to be philatelists, have clearly picked up some of the many GPO posters that have come on the market recently.  I would guess that these had come from the Onslows sale, not least because of the presence of this poster of Norwich market, which seemed to be included with every single lot there.  (I like to imagine a teetering pile of these posters in the corner of the archive, having to be sold in the end for reasons of health and safety.)

Norwich Market, GPO poster

Yours for £20, and they’ve sold two already, which makes me even more likely to suspect Onslows as the source.

But I’m not entirely sure, because I don’t remember seeing this going past at any point, and a quick rifle through the catalogues hasn’t left me any the wiser either.

Tom Eckersley postcards beach GPO poster

However hard I try to get the thought out of my mind, I can’t help being reminded of of a flag stuck in a giant dog poo.  But despite that it is on offer for a rather more chunky £150.

I also don’t recollect this one either, and I would have thought I would, seeing as it’s related to one of my favourite subjects string.

GPO saving usable length of string

For reasons too complicated to explain, I found recently myself googling the story of the pensioner whose wartime economies included a drawer marked ‘lengths of string, too short to be of use’.  I’d always thought it was an urban legend, but found people swearing it had been true of their own parents.

That’s going for £55, and I’d be surprised if the poster cost much more than £20 to the dealer concerned, if that.  I’ve been forced to think about dealer’s mark-ups recently, because I’ve had to explain to someone who got in contact with the blog that, just because there is a Harry Stevens poster on sale at Fears & Kahn for £495,

Harry Stevens welsh mountains bus poster

…that doesn’t mean that their smaller bus poster is therefore worth £100.  I hope I didn’t disappoint them too much.

This is partly  because I don’t believe that the Harry Stevens is actually worth that much, although Fears & Kahn clearly do, and are happy to wait for long enough until the right buyer comes along who wants it at that price.  Which is also something that has to be factored into the valuation.

But this is also how a dealer makes their money.  They have to pay for premises, storage, advertising, web presence, fairs and all of the malarkey that comes with being a business, so the added value is fair enough.

Now I can hear you protesting that none of this is exactly news, and is how the antiques trade has been working for generations.  But what this does make me wonder what the actual value of a poster is.  Is it the price it might fetch at auction, or is it the price that a dealer might get for it?

I’ll give you one more example, because it’s a poster I can track quite easily (and am pre-disposed towards, because it hangs in our bedroom being cheerful).

Royston Cooper lion keep britain tidy

Fears & Khan have it on sale for £675, and frankly that’s what I think it should be worth.  And in the past it has sold for that amount of money at Christies.  Yet when it last popped up at Onslows a couple of years ago it went for £70.  Which means that the seller probably didn’t get much over £50 for their trouble.  So, what’s it worth?

All of which means that I am a bit wary of telling people what a poster is worth any more.  Because I don’t think there is one single answer any more.

Hear more, do less

Now here’s something interesting, albeit thoroughly of its era in its attitude to racial difference.  (A riot of Colour and Music reads rather differently to us today with those images attached).

shop display card for Philips Broadcast of 1938

Nonetheless, here it is and so, like the Volkswagen and Empire Marketing Board posters, we shall consider it.

This was emailed to me by Kerry, who found it in her attic and – this is probably a relevant piece of information – lives in Guildford, which is home to the Philips head office in Britain.

What it isn’t, though, is a poster, as the rear view shows.

Philips broadcast 1938 back view

It’s a shop display card, although admittedly quite a big one.  Which means that I can’t seem to discover very much about the image or the design.

However, what I can find, which is in some ways even more interesting, is the actual thing it is advertising, the Philips Broadcast 1938.

This turns out to be a five minute animated film, by early and renowned animator George Pal (lots more info out there if you are interested).  Which, joy of joys, is available on YouTube, and turns out to be utterly wonderful.

What we have here – and it’s a useful reminder for those of us, like me, who tend to look only at posters – is a pre-war multi-media campaign.  The shop card is advertising a cinema short which in turn wants you to buy a radio.  (I do have a few questions as to why a colour film is a good way of persuading you to buy a radio, but I think we’ll just have to accept that things were different then.)

Posters, it’s worth remembering, didn’t exist in splendid isolation.  They lived alongside newspaper and magazine advertisements, as well as cinema ads, part of a whole advertising package.

Coincidentally, I discovered another example of this only last night.  I haven’t mentioned the MacFisheries graphics by Hans Schleger for a while, which I probably should have done as they are classic, brilliant and criminally unknown.

Hans Schleger salmon Macfisheries poster

But then, on a Pathé showreel, I found something really interesting – and yes, if you want to imagine me and Mr Crownfolio sitting in of a winter evening and watching 1950s cinema ads, feel free: it’s what happened.

It turns out that Pathé, as well as producing newsreels, also made advertisements themselves, and quite a few of them, up to two hundred a year (there’s a blog about it here).  A small sample were edited together to show to prospective advertisers, and you can take a look at this here (sadly it’s on the Pathé website, so I can’t embed it like a YouTube video).

In amongst them you will find a Macfisheries advert, using the Schleger graphic styleat the start and end, to persuade you to think about serving turkey for Easter as well as Christmas.

MacFisheries tv ad Schleger graphics

end of 1950s macfisheries ad

Here’s another of posters for reference (any excuse).

Macfisheries Hans Schleger turkey poster

The ad is at 11’30” in, but I heartily recommend watching the whole thing for added entertainment.  Dry Hair for men doesn’t seem to be a problem now, but they were very worried about it then.

For Their Eyes Only

I’m battling with a post about auctions at the moment, but sense is eluding me.  So while I sort myself out, why don’t you take a look at this pair of posters.  Although they’re not very cheery.

Protect and Survive residential street before bomb

Residential street after bomb damage 1958 civil defence poster

The images were sent to me by Mark T, who found them in an old hospital over twenty years ago and has hung onto them ever since.  He actually has the full set of eight – here’s another happy image (borrowed from this website which has a thoroughly comprehensive exposition of the Protect and Survive programme of that era).

civil defence bomb damage poster 1958

I’d never seen these posters before, although when I search for them, they are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, which tells me that they date from 1958.

But quite apart from the shock value, they interest me for two reasons.  One is that you can’t look for something if it’s not there.  What else are we missing that we do not know is there?  I suppose means that one day I should just put the keyword ‘poster’ into the IWM collection and see what turns up.  If I’m gone for a long time, you’ll know why.

The other point, though, is that not all posters have the same audience.  What is fascinating about this set is that unlike most posters they were definitely not meant to be seen by everyone.  At a time when government advice for what to do in a nuclear attack was to put two doors against a wall and batten them with luggage, these posters are telling the unvarnished truth about what would actually happen if a bomb did fall.  Look at this poster.

city centre nuclear bomb damage civil defence poster 1958

A door isn’t going to be much use there, is it?

It’s no surprise really then that these were found in a hospital.  These are the people who would have needed to know the scale of the damage and how many people would be injured; quite possibly this was where the Civil Defence Planning Meetings were held.  But very few would have seen the posters at all, because only a very select few were meant to know how bad it was going to be.